Criminals, Suspected or Convicted, Are Humans Made in the Image of God Too.

As a newspaper reporter, I get to see all sorts of things cross my desk, all sorts of news stories and photos and police reports.

One section I’m responsible for putting together is the “Cops” section, which curates the police reports from the local police department and local sheriff’s offices. You’ll see a wide range of things on there — people charged with failure to appear in court for whatever reason, stealing from Walmart (8 times in a 3-day span last week), and sometimes harder offenses.

Last week, there was one day where there were two men charged with several sex offenses – indecent liberties with a child, statutory rape, things like that. It broke my heart. I literally sat at my desk with my hand over my mouth for a good minute because I didn’t know how else to respond.

Turns out, in both cases, the kids weren’t viciously raped, but likely persuaded to participate in these acts by older people and the kids were too young to give consent. But that doesn’t excuse the actions. Justice must be served. The appropriate punishment must take place, if indeed those men are guilty.

At the paper, we often post these reports on our Facebook page with mugshots. Those posts are shared and commented on more than just about any other. It becomes a platform for people to be judges and juries without all the information. The newspaper simply reports what it knows, and we’re careful to not say definitively whether he or she is innocent or guilty, because we don’t know.

But what I’ve seen on those comments sometimes makes me just as sad. In the comments of posts like the ones involving those men I mentioned before, I saw pictures of nooses. There’s harsh words of condemnation. There’s lots of terrible things being said.

Yes, perhaps, some of those things are deserved. Raping a child, as these men were accused with, is horrendous and awful and terrible. If these men were indeed guilty, they deserve their due punishment. I’m not going to talk about whether they do or not because it’s clear, they do.

But the way the information is handled by the public on those things is nuts.

I saw a shining example of how it should be handled on the Facebook page this morning regarding someone arrested for drug offenses. The page is public, so this is readily available. I’m changing the name mentioned here because it’s not relevant to this post. Here it is:

I had the privilege of teaching TONI when she was in high school. She’s a smart, thoughtful, and caring person. It did not take long for me to identify the potential she had to accomplish great things. I do not condone criminal activity in any way. However, I notice that this post refers only to her arrest. It does not refer to her conviction. There are no details or evidence regarding what may or may not have taken place. I can not speak to TONI’s guilt or innocence. The piece in the (newspaper) does not speak to her guilt or innocence either. Why do so many feel the need to condemn someone based on a brief blurb in the (newspaper)? I have seen such harsh and heartless comments on this post, and other posts, referring to this situation. What is solved by berating and degrading TONI? If TONI was involved in this does this sort of language and abuse help her in any way? Where is our humanity? We as a society love to spout the evils of drug use, but fail to understand the power of addiction that can happen to people from all walks of life. To be clear, I have no knowledge of any crimes TONI may or may not have committed and I have never known her to use drugs. I am speaking only to the accusations thoughtlessly posted on social media. I admit that I know TONI only through a student-teacher relationship as opposed to a social relationship, but I think so much of her as a person that I have made a point to check-in with her as often as I can to see how she’s doing. I have seen the love she has for her two beautiful children. I have seen the loyalty and devotion she has for her family. I also had the privilege of teaching one of her sisters who is working towards a degree as a special education teacher. This family doesn’t deserve this treatment whether or not a crime was committed. There are many, many families out there that don’t deserve the kind of abuse I see splashed across social media. Take a moment before pressing “Post” and ask yourself if this is something you would want written about your loved one. If it isn’t, please press “Delete”.

I love this. I can’t really put it any better.

You can tell it comes from a teacher, by the way, a good one. There’s a reverence for and understanding of due process of law. There’s a care for Toni (again, not her real name) as a person because she is a person.

She is someone who was made in the image of God. She’s someone who, on that basis alone, deserves to be loved and respected. If she was guilty of the supposed crime, then yes, she deserves punishment as well.

But even if she is a criminal, even if those two men charged for horrible things with children are found to be guilty, they deserve our love. They deserve our prayers. They deserve to be cared for, even in our thoughts and especially on our Facebook pages. They deserve it because God made them and cares for them.

If we as Christians call ourselves pro-life and pro-love, we’ll care for those lives and we’ll love those people, even just in how we think about them. I’m not saying we ignore those affected by these supposed crimes. They deserve our prayers too. But we need to love those affected by sin and those who commit the sin.

We should see the cops reports as a prayer list. The report, in most cases, lists those who supposedly committed crimes and those who report them. If you want a head start, check out the Sanford Police Department’s list. It’s updated throughout the day with reports and charges brought.

Pray for those people to find Jesus or return to Him. Pray that they understand the weight of their sin. Pray that someone would be sharing the Gospel with them. Pray that their hearts would be healed. Pray for them like you do a family member who isn’t a Christian, or a brother or sister in Christ who’s dealing with sin in their lives.

These people are like Barabbas. Jesus died in their place. Will we pray for them? Will we love them with our thoughts?


The World Is Crying Out for Authenticity. Let’s Give It to Them.

I watched the first 40 minutes or so of the GOP debate last night and wasn’t surprised by anything. By the time you get to the fifth of these things, there’s not much new to be had.

But as I pondered the debate this morning, I was struck by the fact that I wasn’t surprised. Candidates took shots at each other, at Barack and Hillary, at ISIS, just about everything imaginable. It was like they were reading from a script every time they talked.

I understand that’s kind of what you want in a debate. You prep for weeks before, getting your answers straight and formulated so you don’t embarrass yourself on national television. I totally get it.

But what you’re left wondering with all those scripted answers is this: “What do they really think? Who are they really? What will they really do when they get in office?”

We perceive that they’re missing a certain amount of authenticity. We’re afraid we’re not seeing who they really are. That’s why Donald Trump is doing so well – he’s being himself, saying what he really thinks, not crafting an answer to fit some party line or politically-correct stance. As crazy as some of his thoughts may be, he’s the real deal.

And that authenticity – as his poll numbers show – is what people crave.

Let’s look at two of the most popular musicians of this era – Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber – as examples.

Swift is known for her very personal songwriting, with tracks that seem to match up perfectly with her many public relationships. These tracks hit people hard because they can relate. It’s not a stale retread of the typical break-up song. It’s a fresh perspective, and she never seems to fail. That’s why she has over 67.6 million Twitter followers and each of her five studio albums have sold at least four million copies in the United States. Many musicians have taken to that style of being personal and vulnerable on their records.

If you know me, you know I’m a huge Bieber fan. That fandom took a boost with the release of his most recent album, Purpose. His first few releases were typical, cheesy, stereotypical pop music standards. But with Purpose, he turned a corner, quickly striking platinum with first-week sales of 649,000. And it’s not shocking. Yes, the production is vastly improved, constantly playing on the EDM movement of the current music scene. But his lyricism has grown significantly. He comes across as the real thing instead of some pop puppet with a pretty face. He’s credited as a writer on each of the tracks, and songs like “Purpose” and “Life Is Worth Living” get down deep and dirty into life.

People in my generation especially are tired of the phonies and the fakes and the liars. We’re tired of people who don’t tell the whole truth, who just stick to the status quo, who don’t take any risks. That’s why we love musicians like Swift and Bieber, politicians like Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Authenticity is the character trait that my generation respects and values the most. It says that you’re OK with people knowing who you are, you’re OK with sharing yourself, the real you, with the world.

Oh Christians, we have an amazing opportunity.

We have an amazing opportunity to be ourselves and win hearts for the Gospel. Jesus was Himself. God was Himself. Paul was himself.

Paul is my favorite example. Romans 7:15-19.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

Paul shows us exactly how we pursue displaying authenticity. He doesn’t necessarily have to give specifics of everything he does, but he’s honest about the fact that he’s fallen short and does things he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do things he wants to do.

This has always made Paul the most relatable of all the biblical figures to me. He doesn’t hide the fact that, well, he sucks at following God. “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh,” he says. Not only is that theologically-correct, it also takes a serious amount of authenticity to just be straightforward with it.

The ability to be authentic with God is something that attracts me to following Christ. Paul could write and say things like that and knew that it wouldn’t shut him out of being loved and used by God. The grace of God opens us up to be truly authentic with Him, with ourselves and with each other. If the worst response to our authenticity is people not liking us, we’ve still got the love of God.

So Christians, let’s be authentic. Let’s be ourselves. Let’s be honest. Let’s not hide things that don’t need hiding. What you share is up to you, but let’s think about how we can be more authentic and more honest with people.

Who knows how much further the Gospel can go when we’re honest about how much we need it, how much we are lost without it?

Three Wise Insights from the Justin Bieber Interview. Yeah, I Said ‘Justin Bieber’ and ‘Wise’ in the Same Breath.

Yesterday, the magazine Complex published an extensive Q&A with pop star Justin Bieber on their website. The Q&A explored Bieber’s recent mistakes in the public eye, his relationship with fellow pop star Selena Gomez and his faith.

I thought there were some really interesting things he said, and I want to share some of them.

On having real relationships with people who won’t just tell you what you want to hear:

When you get famous, you get people that will encourage whatever you do. You’ll do something and they’ll be like, “That was dope, Justin!” When you’re young especially, you don’t know who’s bulls***ting you. I’m gonna make sure that I don’t have people around me who make me look like an idiot. You don’t understand—that’s a normal thing for human beings, but I never had that in my life. I didn’t even have that with my parents. I think they just didn’t know how. We never built the right relationships. Now I’m having real relationships where it’s two ways. I didn’t understand how that works because the way people would interact with me was always so weird and it was never completely 100 percent genuine.

The insight: Be around people who won’t fool with you. Surround yourself with people who will tell you the honest truth about yourself, people who will be 1oo percent honest and genuine with you.

On relationships and putting your identity in your significant other:

Your girl or your dude, they’re always going to disappoint you. Your full identity can’t be in that person. My identity was in her [ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez]. Her identity was in me. When stuff would happen, I would lose my freakin’ mind, and she would lose her mind, and we would fight so hard because we were so invested in each other. Love is a choice. Love is not a feeling. People have made it seem in movies that it’s this fairy tale. That’s not what love is. You’re not gonna want to love your girl sometimes but you’re gonna choose to love her. That’s something in life that I had to figure out. I can’t lean on people. I got to lean on God. I gotta trust in him through all my situations. Then, hopefully, my other relationships will flourish around me. But if I’m gonna be so invested in you, if you die, or something happens to you, I’m gonna be so destroyed, I won’t be able to go on. If I can love you and know that I’m not who I am because you’re being nice to me, but that I love you and I think you’re an incredible person but you’re just as broken as I am on the inside. We’re all just trying to figure it out.

The insight: Love is a choice. It’s not a feeling. In relationships, you can’t just go around basing everything off your feelings. You’ll never end up in a lasting relationship with anyone because feelings come and go. And if you base your identity in your relationship with a human, it will never be stable because humans are naturally unstable.

On his faith and where his journey has brought him:

I’m not religious. I, personally, love Jesus and that was my salvation. I want to share what I’m going through and what I’m feeling and I think it shouldn’t be ostracized. I think that everybody should get their chance to share what they’re doing or where their journey is headed, whether they’re straight or gay or what they believe in. We’re in a place now in 2015 where people have gotta be open-minded. I actually feel better and more free now that I know what I can do and what I can’t do. My voice, I’m not gonna let it not be heard anymore. I’m gonna use my voice for a reason. I think that people, as soon as they start hearing me saying I’m a Christian, they’re like, “Whoa Justin, back up, take a step back.” Also, I do not want to shove this down anyone’s throat. I just wanna honestly live like Jesus. Not be Jesus—I could never—I don’t want that to come across weird. He created a pretty awesome template of how to love people and how to be gracious and kind. If you believe it, he died for our sins. Sometimes when I don’t feel like doing something, but I know it’s right, I remember, I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t feel like going to the cross and dying so that we don’t have to feel what we should have to feel. What Jesus did when he came to the cross was basically say, “You don’t have to feel any of that stuff.” We could take out all of our insecurities, we could take away all of the hurt, all the pain, all the fear, all the trauma. That doesn’t need to be there. So all this healing that you’re trying to do, it’s unnecessary. We have the greatest healer of all and his name is Jesus Christ. And he really heals. This is it. It’s time that we all share our voice. Whatever you believe. Share it. I’m at a point where I’m not going to hold this in.

The insight: Jesus is our salvation. It’s not anything we do. It’s Him. We can never be Jesus, but our goal is to live like Him. And we can and should be open and honest and real about our relationship with Him.

I’m afraid that something we often do as the Church is write off people just because of their prior actions and think, “Well, I shouldn’t even care what they have to say. They’re idiots/immature/stupid/silly/etc., they’ve broken the law, they’ve cussed, they’ve sung something I don’t like, so I should just ignore them.”

If we really applied that to everyone, here’s a list of people we would have to write off:

I’m not saying we need to start seeking after Justin Bieber for our theological foundation. He doesn’t proclaim to be, and I don’t propose him to be, a theologian of the highest order who we need to follow on Twitter to get all the spiritual wisdom we need. But can’t we just step back and not completely write off someone because their life doesn’t match up entirely with how we think a Christian life is supposed to look like?

Let’s be honest: none of us live that way. If you knew everything about my life, past and present, you’d probably never read this blog again. And I wouldn’t blame you.

Based on this article, Justin Bieber has a better grip on the Gospel than many Christians who go to church all the time and argue on Facebook do.

Cut him – and everybody else who sins – some slack. Jesus cuts us tons of slack and loves us in spite of our sins. Can’t we do that for others?

#Salvation4Free Is the Ultimate Social Movement

People love themselves a good cause. It’s part of the human condition, I think, that we like something to rally behind, or at least show once that we rally behind something.

Perhaps the most notable outcome of this in recent years is what’s called “hashtag activism.” Perhaps the first notable instance of this was #Kony2012, started by the organization Invisible Children to try to raise awareness of Joseph Kony, an African cult leader and director of mass murders. Probably hundreds of hashtags have followed in the time since: #BlackLivesMatter, #AllLivesMatter, #BringBackOurGirls and more.

The merits and effectiveness of this strategy have been debated. Some call it “slacktivism,” basically a lazy activism that is supposed to make the person feel good about “what they’re doing for the cause.” Speaking specifically about #BringBackOurGirls, Fox News contributor George Will said, “I do not know how adults stand there facing a camera and say, ‘Bring Back Our Girls.’ Are these barbarians in the wilds of Nigeria supposed to check their Twitter accounts and say, ‘Uh-oh Michelle Obama is very cross with us, we better change our behavior?’”

Whatever the case, social justice causes often draw a lot of people’s attention, and it’s something people rally behind.

The Church has its own forms of social justice. Sometimes it takes the form of social justice causes the world is about too. For instance, the Passion Conference-driven #endit movement focusing on worldwide sex slavery is brought up nearly every January. And sometimes it’s a special brand, such as the #DefundPP movement that’s popular nowadays focused on ending federal government funding of Planned Parenthood.

I’ve wrestled a lot with these things. Often my mind comes to a conclusion like this: “These things are good, but they can’t be primary. The Gospel has got to be primary.”

As I’ve read through the Gospels – which has been an inconsistent process – for the last few months, one thing for me has become clear. Jesus cared about the social injustices of the day, but His primary concern, and then the primary concern of His disciples, was salvation.

He cared about the poor and the outcast, but instead of rallying to get the government to change things, He actually went out to them, healed them, talked with them. And then He went and died on the cross to give them salvation. His last breath was proclaiming that the work was done, it is finished.

The most radical of all of these movements is the fact that we can be freed from the entanglements of sin – both here and after here – through the blood of Christ. It’s not something we have to work for, it’s not something we earn because of our good works, it’s something that’s freely given.

How incredible is that? It’s something that’s incredibly social in that it deals with people. And it’s justice being served, but the opposite of how we would consider justice to actually go down.

We are the oppressed. We are the ones in need of saving. We are the ones in need of help. And God sent Jesus to die on the cross to complete the task. It’s the ultimate #Salvation4Free plea. It’s much better than any tweet, much better than any protest, much better than any blog post.

I’m not saying that those other movements are worthless. We can echo the call of Jesus and of Scripture to help the widows and orphans and those oppressed by participating in these movements.

But only the Gospel truly rescues people from their deepest need.

Sin Isn’t Totally Bad.

One of the more frustrating moments for me in my life is when I’m confronted with sin in my life. In fact, it’s one of the quickest triggers for my anxiety and depression. Pull on that reminder of my weakness, my insufficiency, my sinfulness, and I’m likely to be frustrated, which makes me anxious, which makes me depressed. It’s a vicious cycle.

The thing we’ve been told in our Christian culture is that sin is the worst thing that can ever happen to you. And it’s true. It is. But I think there’s two things to keep in perspective when reflecting back on sin. Because let’s be honest: sin isn’t totally bad. Here’s why.

Sin feels good.

Committing sin can be awesome. If we ignore this, we ignore one of the vital facts of being a human. Somebody told me recently that not all humans are Christians but all Christians are humans. Since we are humans, we naturally desire to sin. We naturally crave to satisfy ourselves in ways that are not glorifying to God or honoring to man. For us to think that we don’t sin is a lie. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Two verses later, the implications of saying we’re sinless are even worse: “If we say we have not sinned, we make (God) a liar, and his word is not in us.”

I say it is impossible for us to walk this earth without sin. And I think it’s dangerous for us to carry around the idea that we could ever fully defeat sin and everything that comes along with it this side of heaven. It’s an unfair standard we set for ourselves because we forget this vital piece of information that sin feels good. I think this is something we often forget or fail to mention when it comes to sin because it is the very reason we sin. Either committing the sin itself feels good or what we get from committing the sin feels good, so we do it.

Of course this is not license to commit sin, but it’s reason. So sin is not totally bad because of this. If sin was totally bad, we would not desire to do it, we wouldn’t desire the outcomes from sin.

Sin is for our good.

If we are to believe Romans 8:28, this is a truth we must cling to. If “all things work together for good” for those who are believers, then sin is included in that. Sin is not a healthy behavior. But it shows us two things.

Our sin shows us how much we need Jesus. When speaking about the law in Romans 7:7, Paul says, “…if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” If we did not know what sin was and what it meant in our lives and how it made us feel, we would not know just how much we need Christ, how much we need grace, how much we need the Gospel. I believe that part of sin’s purpose in our lives is to redirect us towards the Savior. We commit sin and sometimes we realize that this is not the way we’re supposed to live, not how we find fulfillment and purpose.

Our sin gives us a task to accomplish. When we see we have sin, we are given something to do, something to accomplish. Ideally, killing that sin. We may never kill that individual sin, but we have the tools and the weapons to fight it for the rest of our lives. And this ties into the last point in that we will never defeat sin in any way without Christ working in our lives.

Our sin grows us as believers in faith. If I had not seen the sin of my mind and my heart, I would not need to cling to the Gospel. I would not need to grow my faith in the grace of the Gospel, in the understanding of redemption, in the power of forgiveness. If without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), I’m thankful for my sin for causing my faith to grow.

Our sin gives us opportunity to speak truth into others’ lives. I firmly believe that God has put certain sins in my life so that I can speak to others about them, whether that’s in a “we’re both struggling with this” way or “I was there, let me tell you about it and help you” way. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man,” 1 Corinthians 10:13 says. If you struggle with a sin, you’re not the only one. By dealing with sin, you become qualified to be in fellowship with someone who is dealing with the same thing and mourn together, encourage together and fight together. Personally, I love encouraging those who deal with or have dealt with the same sins I’m dealing with or have dealt with in my life.

The fact that sin isn’t totally bad is a contrarian idea, but one that has been incredibly freeing to me. It’s helped me learn more about myself and more about how I relate to God.

In fact, it makes me worship God more. He wastes nothing! God doesn’t even waste our sins! How crazy is that? Of all the things that God could just shove aside and do nothing with, it would make sense for it to be sin. But the fact that He uses it for our good and His glory makes me love Him even more.

Bristol Palin’s Second Out-of-Wedlock Pregnancy Deserves Grace Too. Just Like the 5700th Time I Lusted.

Twitter can be a wonderful place for news, opinions and the occasional funny meme or cute photo. If you don’t follow @CuteEmergency, you’re missing out on some incredible things.

As I scanned through the Trending Topics, as I’m prone to do often, I saw “Bristol Palin” on the list. Curiosity piqued, I clicked and found out some news. She’s pregnant out-of-wedlock, for the second time. A big deal was made of the first baby, which was announced during her mother’s run for the Vice Presidency back in 2008. And I’m sure that soon there will be a big deal about this baby too.

A lot of the early analysis, if you look at Twitter, is calls of hypocrisy for Palin’s extensive work with pro-abstinence organizations such as The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and the Candie’s Foundation. And I’m sure there will be more.

Palin announced the news on her blog on

I wanted you guys to be the first to know that I am pregnant.

Honestly, I’ve been trying my hardest to keep my chin up on this one.

At the end of the day there’s nothing I can’t do with God by my side, and I know I am fully capable of handling anything that is put in front of me with dignity and grace.

Life moves on no matter what.  So no matter how you feel, you get up, get dressed, show up, and never give up.

When life gets tough, there is no other option but to get tougher.

I know this has been, and will be, a huge disappointment to my family, to my close friends, and to many of you.

But please respect Tripp’s and my privacy during this time. I do not want any lectures and I do not want any sympathy.

My little family always has, and always will come first.

Tripp (her first child), this new baby, and I will all be fine, because God is merciful.

First thought: good luck on not getting any lectures, because in our social media world, that’s all she’ll get. Anyways.

This situation reminded me of somebody very close to me, someone I know very well, someone who struggles with sin too. Me.

See, I struggle with lust, particularly when it comes to sexual temptation. I haven’t let it get to a point where I’ve had sex or had a kid, but it’s been present in my life for a long time. It’s a daily struggle. And daily, I give into my lust, often simply by looking too long at a girl in a sinful way.

Yeah, I said it in public.

Anyways, I daily have to remind myself of the grace of God that Christ earned for me on the cross because I can get really frustrated with my lust. I can get really mad that I lust after girls. I wish I could just look at them the right way all the time, but I don’t. It’s a sinful thing I’ve been praying about a lot, but it’s not going away yet.

I think we have a problem in the church culture when we expect people who make mistakes to fix them immediately if they’re a Christian. There’s no grace period, especially if it’s a mistake that’s already been publicly made. I know that I struggle to give that grace to myself.

There’s no Scripture that says we will totally kill our sin in our lifetimes. And even if we make one ginormous mistake that we swear to never make again, we will most likely make that mistake again. Bristol Palin is a perfect example of that. As am I.  I swear to myself that I’ll never look at a girl lustfully ever again, but then I do, and I feel like crap.

(Side note: This is why I think “resolutions” are dangerous, but that’s a different thing entirely.)

Since we are sinful people living in a culture of shame and not of grace and compassion, our first reaction to each other and to ourselves is to condemn and to shame those who mess up publicly. But really, we should be the first people to give grace and love and support.


Imagine there’s a young girl in your church who becomes pregnant by her high school boyfriend. He can’t handle the pressure that comes with it, so he quits the relationship. She comes to the church, alone, desperate for help. The church does the right thing and helps her pay for doctor’s visits. The youth pastor and his wife are there, supportive all along the way, even showing up for the birth of the baby.

A couple weeks after the baby is born, she stands in front of the congregation with her child, a gorgeous baby boy, and gives an impassioned testimony about the grace of God in her circumstances. She says her goal is to raise this child to the glory of God. She also speaks about the dangers of moving relationships too fast and the importance of saving yourself for marriage.

Three years later, you see a little bit showing in her belly. You soon hear that she’s pregnant again.

What’s your first reaction?

My first reaction in this hypothetical: Some people never change. What the heck is she doing?

Jesus’ first reaction:

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

He doesn’t condemn this woman who has surely done this before. He loves her, does not condemn her, then instructs her to sin no more. He’s certainly not going to encourage her to sin anymore or let it casually slide, but in the middle of her darkest hour, her deepest sin exposed, He loves.

Bristol Palin sinned, and she acknowledges that. The woman caught in adultery doesn’t plead her case, doesn’t deny that she did what was accused of her. She just receives the grace. I hope and pray Bristol Palin does the same, receives the grace of the Gospel as she goes through this ordeal for the second time in a very public way.

Let this be a reminder to us in two ways. First, there’s always the possibility that we’ll commit the same sin a second, third, 5700th time. Second, grace from God is there each and every time. Let’s give the same grace. Please avoid speaking in a condemning way of her. God’s already skipped over that part and loves her. Let’s be people of grace.

Racism Doesn’t End Here. It Ends at the End of Days.

I know my title sets me apart from a lot of Christian voices who have spent tons of time over the last few months calling for racial reconciliation and interracial conversation over the multiple shootings involving African Americans.

This thought struck me over the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag hoisted above the state capitol building in Charleston, S.C., the location of the most recent tragedy. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have blown up over the last few days with lots of articles, quotes, opinions, pictures, etc. It reached its height yesterday with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and other leaders calling for it to be lowered. Confederate flags are becoming an endangered species here in America.

With everything that happened with the shooting in South Carolina, it has become a symbol of the racism all across America. And now that Wal-Mart, Amazon and a number of other retailers are removing them from their stores, there’s a shortage of that symbol available for purchase.

Even if every Confederate flag is burned/incinerated/thrown away/never seen again, it won’t change a thing. It may be a symbol of the “old South,” but, unlike the swastika of Nazi Germany, it has rarely been used, to my knowledge at least, as a symbol of racism. I could be wrong. I’m more than happy to be wrong if I am wrong. But…

Taking away the Confederate flag is akin to removing provocative billboards with scantily-dressed women on highways. If you take out the billboards, that won’t kill the lust in people’s hearts. It will simply take away a reminder. And while those things can be helpful, they won’t solve the issue. Honestly, in my opinion, it’s not even a step in the right direction.

Thinking politically/socially for a second: any kind of removal of a cultural symbol is a difficult thing to completely justify. Imagine if the government wanted to remove crosses because it offended people. There would be a serious uproar. Imagine if the government wanted to remove gay pride flags because it offended people. There would be a serious uproar. This is one of those classic cases of you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Honestly, in my opinion, I’d be OK with the flag being taken down. Personally, I wonder why it’s not the South Carolina state flag or United States flag flying over their Capitol building anyways.

So what’s the solution to the flag problem? Do you take it down or do you leave it? I don’t know the answer to that. But that’s not what this is about.

This is about the sanctifying work of Christ that heals human hearts. This is about the Holy Spirit cleansing a man from the inside out. Racism will never be killed on this side of heaven. Dylann Roof’s primary heart sin may have been racism. But we all have our own racism. Maybe it’s lust. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s greed. Maybe it’s (insert sin here). We can get rid of things on the outside to try to help us kill the things on the inside, but it won’t be the silver bullet.

The silver bullet comes at the end of all days.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5, ESV)

We can do all the work we can this side of heaven to kill racism, but the work must be focused in the human heart. I’m not saying we should ignore people’s complaints and concerns. We should listen to the under-represented and under-heard. Good gracious, we should listen to them and do whatever we can to comfort them and show them the love of Christ.

But taking down flags, passing laws and even removing words from the vocabulary will not change the human heart. Only by meeting Jesus can individual hearts be changed. Only by the world meeting Jesus can racism be killed. That comes at the end. That comes when Jesus returns and sin is put away forever.

I can’t wait for that day.

But until then, let’s have the conversation, let’s engage the community, let’s be a part of society. Not just our personal society, but all of society.

Remember: the only step in the right direction is a step towards the cross, a step towards surrender to the Gospel, to the Christ behind the Gospel.

An Open Letter to Karen Fitzgibbons

I swore I’d never write one of these on this blog, but before her name blows up all over the place, I want to make sure she gets this too. If you don’t know who Karen Fitzgibbons is, read this story.

Dear Karen,

My name is Zachary Horner. You don’t know me, but I’ve heard a few things about you. You posted a fairly insensitive post on Facebook that got you a lot of blowback from people on social media. I even know of self-professing Christians who shared your post in a very condemning manner. That upsets me.

So this is my attempt to share my thoughts with you.

First of all, I’m sorry that you’re receiving that response. No individual person should EVER be the target of the hate and vitriol I’m sure that you are receiving, no matter how horrible the crime. I understand speaking to you in-person in a strongly-worded way. That’s how Jesus operated. He confronted the Pharisees to their faces and told them where they were wrong. But the social media nuts who are blasting from their computer screens are helping no one. I’m also sorry that you lost your job and I hope that you can find a way to support yourself soon.

Secondly, I don’t agree with what you said. It is unfair for either side to blame any societal tension on one side only. Since we’re all sinners in need of a Savior, no one is free from blame. The cop is just as guilty as the citizen. The black is just as guilty as the white. God doesn’t see race. He cares for all His children. He particularly cares for the marginalized. And, let’s be honest, in some cities in America, African-Americans are marginalized. I appreciate your honesty, but I don’t appreciate what you were honest about. You didn’t explicitly say you were asking for segregation, but you said you were close to it. I hope that you never reach the point where you want it. I don’t know what it was that brought you to this point, but I hope and pray that the Holy Spirit works in your heart just as I hope He works in mine.

Third, Jesus loves you. Jesus didn’t come to heal the people who got it right all the time, He came to heal those who were outcasts, who were sinners, those who didn’t have it all figured out. I sincerely hope and pray that there are people around you, that there are Christians, black and white, who will genuinely and lovingly take the time to speak with you and share the Gospel with you. Whether or not you are a Christian already, the Gospel is true and needed each and every day of our lives. I hope that you hear the message of grace.

Lastly, I want to apologize for all the Christians who rant from behind their computer keyboards or even just judged you and condemned you based on what you said. I admit to you that I’ve done that many times. I’ve seen something someone has said on Facebook and shook my head in disgust/frustration. We don’t have to agree with what you said. I don’t. But we must love you. We must speak out against injustice and racism, but that doesn’t mean we condemn those who commit it. They are people who need the Gospel, like everyone on the planet.

Karen, I would love to talk with you more about this. Feel free to reach out to me if you get this. I’m serious. My e-mail is

May the grace of God rush over all the criticism and condemnation I imagine you’re feeling right now. And may Christians, including me, love you as God loves us – in the midst of our darkest moments.

Grace and peace,

Zachary Horner

Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner Fiasco Reveals Something We Miss Almost Every Time

Christians’ insistence on hitting back hard at public controversies has yet again made us look like insensitive fools who don’t actually care about people but care more about being “right” instead of doing both.

Matt Walsh:

What he most closely resembles is a mentally disordered man who is being manipulated by disingenuous liberals and self-obsessed gay activists. Far from having the appearance of a genuine woman, he reminds me of someone who is being abandoned to his delusions by a culture of narcissistic imbeciles. I feel a great deal of compassion when I gaze upon this tragic sight — especially because post-op “transgenders” very often regret their decision, and in many cases attempt suicide — but few share my love or concern for him.

But if you read the rest of his piece, there was no love or concern. There was simply an insistence on calling him/her “Bruce” and over and over again stating that he/she was a shame to women and killing feminism.

Albert Mohler:

How in the world is it possible that with a straight face the culture can all of a sudden begin speaking of a living person in the past tense and now speaking of a new person in the present and toward the future – who knows for how long? But in its essence that actually points to the impossibility of the whole transgender project. It speaks to the fact that the secular worldview behind this and even those who are the religious enablers by terms of their argument can’t deal with the fact that Bruce Jenner, is still very much alive and is still very much in public view. Now going by the name Caitlyn, but referring to Bruce Jenner in the past tense, isn’t actually fooling anyone, including the people who insist that’s exactly how Bruce Jenner should now be addressed.

There was mention of compassion and love, but most importantly, Mohler said, was insisting that gender transition was impossible.

I agree with facets of Walsh and Mohler’s arguments. Caitlyn/Bruce chose to sin in rebelling against the creative nature of God in designing him/her the way he/she originally was.

But is that the most important thing that Christians really have to say in all of this? Must we spend all this time insisting on things being a certain way that we forget to show love, that we forget to actually have compassion on people?

One thing that gets overlooked in this whole scenario is the root issue behind these changes. My guess, and I could be wrong, is that people who want to change genders feel some sort of dissatisfaction with the way God made them. And that’s the root cause of any type of sin – a dissatisfaction with the way things are. And that’s not always a purposeful, sinful choice. Perhaps their life circumstances have made things hard for them, and they’re looking for an escape. Perhaps someone said something derogatory to them once and it stuck, causing them to make the change they did. There could be a number of reasons. Whatever it is, there was a discontentment with their current circumstances and they did whatever they could to make a change.

Let me be honest: if a friend came up to me and said he/she was considering changing their gender, my first reaction would be to tell them to not do it because it’s wrong. But here’s what I should say.

Following Jesus leads to so much more satisfaction than changing your gender. Following Jesus leads to so much more satisfaction than drinking a bunch of alcohol. Following Jesus leads to so much more satisfaction than lying to get out of trouble at work. Following Jesus leads to so much more satisfaction than viewing pornography. Following Jesus leads to so much more satisfaction than over-eating.

The thing that gets lost in all of these messes is the root issue behind the person choosing the path they do. Oh, we’ll talk about the culture’s root sin: ignorance of God’s Word, neglecting the way God has created things, etc. But we don’t want to dive deeper and look at where there’s probably a lot of hurt.

In a preview of the Vanity Fair cover story:

Jenner tells (reporter Buzz) Bissinger that Bruce was “always telling lies.” (She even describes doing public appearances after winning the gold medal, where “underneath my suit I have a bra and panty hose and this and that and thinking to myself, They know nothing about me. . . . Little did they know I was totally empty inside.”) Caitlyn, she says, “doesn’t have any lies.”

Jenner felt “empty inside.” It’s reported that he/she also struggled with “gender identity disorder,” a medical condition that causes people to be discontent with their gender.

I can’t speak to the process of the medical condition, but the only hope for fixing any kind of mental or emotional hole, for mending that brokenness, is a relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s a relationship that Bruce/Caitlyn can still have! I believe that no gender transition can take away a person’s opportunity to be a child of God.

But Christians often miss that part, miss the idea that there’s something much deeper to be fixed than the person’s faulty view of gender. There was probably some depression and anxiety, some insecurity, some feeling of loneliness. And, for whatever reason, Bruce/Caitlyn thought that changing his/her gender was the right way to go. What are we as a Church doing if we fail to let people know more than that him/her doing that is sinful? While that may be true, Jesus didn’t just walk around saying everything that everyone was doing was sinful. He also said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

I relate to that depression, anxiety, insecurity and loneliness. I’ve been there. I’ve never had the urge to change my gender, but I’ve committed sins in response to those feelings of depression, anxiety, etc. And just because I didn’t change my gender doesn’t make me any better than Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner. As the body of Christ, we need to be far more concerned with the root feelings and issues that lead to decisions like this. It’s a shame that in Christianity we like to try to fix the surface problems when the root issues are far more common and, in my opinion, far more deadly.

It’s in approaching those issues where we have the better opportunity to live like Jesus, to show compassion and love. We can still confront sin and say that something is wrong, but we also have the opportunity to do far better things than just condemn. Love is telling the truth, but not just in the area that’s staring you in the face, but in the areas that are deeper and more impactful on the person.

Can’t we just be the Good Samaritan to these people?

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:33-37)

Let’s Ease Up on the Disciples, Huh? I Mean, You Are One Too.

Note: This is one of my pet peeves about Christianity. It might seem a little nit-picky. But I think it does reveal a lot about the human heart, especially my own, so I must write about it.

Some of the most disparaged characters in the New Testament are the disciples of Jesus. They are constantly mocked by pastors from the pulpit. They are seen as people who have everything they need right in front of them – Jesus – yet they miss the point! They don’t fully understand what they’re supposed to get.

So we say bad things about them that we would never say to their faces. We say we would do so much better. We say they should have known better.

But would we really?

Would we really stick with Jesus when He went to the cross? Would we really not slash a guard’s ear off? Would we really believe Jesus saying that He was going to die and then come back from the dead three days later? Would we really follow Him to the grave? Would we really? On what basis do we claim to have everything together and say the disciples don’t?

I think it’s evidence of our self-righteousness that we reprimand those in the past for not doing the things we would obviously have done in that situation. It’s perhaps the simplest and most obvious application of the adage “hindsight is 20/20.” Of course we would do the right thing.

I doubt it. I am a disciple of Jesus. I am just like them.

Sometimes I, like the disciples, question Jesus’ insistence on speaking with those with childlike faith and encouraging that kind of faith.

Sometimes I, like the disciples, flee when my Savior is questioned and doubted and harassed.

Sometimes I, like the disciples, deny that I know Jesus and that I have a relationship with Him.

Sometimes I, like the disciples, doubt the very words that Jesus speaks to me, that He loves me and that He died for me.

Sometimes I, like the disciples, say that I am the best Christian there is, the most faithful follower.

So let me make this plea: on behalf of the disciples, please cut them some slack and truly put yourself in their shoes. I must do the same.